Dallas Developments: Day #4

22 May

Today was a big day for Dallas. Before going into his room every morning for breakfast, I measure out all his food into separate containers. There’s a cup of his pellets, a tablespoon of the Kaytee Exact blend, and 1/2 a Probios treat (which he may or may not eat, depending on his mood. Alice & Hatter will literally stand on each other to get theirs. Dallas couldn’t care less.) I do this because it gives me three opportunities to pair a click with receiving food, and therefore three more chances for Dallas to learn the connection.

However, when I went into his room today, something was immediately different. Usually Dallas is in his hidey box, staring at me from the far corner of his pen with wary eyes. Today, he was at the front of his pen, in full periscope mode. (For the non-bunny crowd, “periscoping” is when a bunny balances on their hind legs to get a better look at their surroundings. Some call it “prairie-dogging,” because it’s the same behavior.) He knew what was coming, which shows that he’s adjusted to the daily schedule here. That’s a good sign.

Even more exciting, as soon as I hit the first click, he ran to his food bowl and looked back at me. He knew what that click meant- FOOD! I poured in his pellets, and waited for him to get a few bites in. Dallas dives on his food like a football player after a fumble, and it’s best not to try to interfere with that. Then I gave a second click, to signal that the Exact was coming. He didn’t stop eating, but for the first time, he didn’t grunt at me when I put a scoop near his face. He didn’t even flinch- just kept eating whatever he could get his little teeth around. He wasn’t interested in the third click and the Probios treat, but he didn’t grunt or flinch when that was offered either.

Based on this, Dallas has likely learned to associate a click with the arrival of food. He knows to expect food when he hears the click, so he doesn’t feel threatened when it is immediately offered. This is a huge step in his training. It’s not the end of the pairing, as he needs to show the same reaction for a couple more days to be sure that he really understands, but he’s on the right track.

It’s important to note that even though there was a success today, Dallas still has a long way to go before he’s ready to be adopted. When I went into his room this evening, I took a few treat options with me. As you can see in the videos below, he was very social at first. He even put his front paws on me to get at his preferred treat faster. It may be hard to hear in the video, but he got a double click for that, to signal a “jackpot” reward for such a social and trusting behavior. He did take his treat and run off, though, showing that while he’s willing to climb on me to get the treat, he’s not trusting enough to assume I won’t try to steal it back.

 

A few minutes later, he was at his food bowl. I wanted to see how he’d react to my hand entering his “space,” even after a click. As you can see, he didn’t like it at all. He grunted and lunged at me. While he didn’t make contact, he made it very clear that I wasn’t welcome around him at that moment. That’s a territorial display, and it was a reversal from this morning’s behavior.

 

In this third video, taken about 10 minutes after the second one, Dallas approaches me again. He even allows a quick few seconds of petting. This is the first time he’s allowed me to touch him, and he got another jackpot reward for that- double clicks and a new Timothy hay twist chew.

 

I ended the training session at that point, as it’s always good to end on a high note. I closed up his pen, said good night, and turned off the light on my way out the door. We’ll see what tomorrow morning brings. When it comes to Dallas, anything is possible.

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